by Matthew Sterne
on November 1, 2010
We Rhino Africans have been lucky enough to go and stay at all three of the Royal Portfolio properties and thought this would be a good time to share some of our musings with you…
Essentially, the Royal Portfolio comprises three properties in three extraordinary locations:
- Birkenhead House in Hermanus
- Royal Malewane in the Thornybush Game Reserve which forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park
- Franschhoek in the the Cape Winelands.
The property in Hermanus is made up of Birkenhead House and Birkenhead Villa. Birkenhead Villa is basically a child and family friendly version of Birkenhead House which is next door.
At Royal Malewane, you’ll also find Africa House which is the mind bogglingly beautiful exclusive use Villa which you can enjoy with your own Game Ranger and Private Chef.
At Royal Malewane and Birkenhead House, it is Full Board, which means that all your food and local wines, beers and soft drinks are included in the room rate – we love this way of travel, because from the moment you arrive, you can simply kick back and indulge without worrying about running up an extortionate bill. And of course your in-room mini bar is totally complimentary.
This is not the ca
se however at La Residence where the rate is for bed and breakfast only (Half Board). They do this because there are so many fabulous restaurants in and around Franschhoek, that they find guests don’t want to eat in all the time. You’ll find that your in-room mini bar is still complimentary though!
A Very Brief History Indeed
In 1992 Phil and Liz Biden bought and built a holiday home on the land that is now Birkenhead House – this was their final acquisition of the three properties. After the huge success of developing their other two holiday homes, La Residence and Royal Malewane, into exclusive holiday destinations, they decided to follow suit with Birkenhead House. They’ve owned and managed these three magnificent hotels ever since.
Below you’ll find our Rhino Africa Reviews of the three properties. Needless to say they all get a 5 Rhino Rating!
It is difficult to explain quite how amazing Birkenhead House is. We arrived on a rather blustery afternoon- probably two hours door to door from Cape Town. A trademark of the Royal Portfolio is the beaming welcome from what seems like an army of white linen clad staff.
Birkenhead is very much a beach house which somehow manages to pull off 5-Star luxury and service in a laid-back, homely and unpretentious environment. The setting is spectacular and dramatic – think Shutter Island meets the Great Gatsby – an infinity pool with waves thundering into the rocks below.
I had to scrape my jaw off the floor as I walked through the property taking in mind boggling art and cool sculptural furniture, from the enormous sea shell wardrobe to the curvaceous Russian Teak desk, every piece is a marvel. In fact, the art has been catalogued so that you can read all about your favourites (and trust me, you’ll have one!).
We arrived in time for lunch just as the wind took care of the last of the lingering clouds. And what a lunch it was! The rates at Birkenhead House are Full Board, which means that all your drinks and meals are included (unless you choose to splash out on some of the finer wines on the list for which there is a surcharge). And so it was that we tucked into a couple of bottles of delicious Newton Johnson Felicite Rose.
But lo! Did my eyes deceive me? Was I three sheets to the wind? Was that rock in the sea moving? Or was it indeed…a whale?! Three mighty Southern Right Whales were splish splashing and bathing out in Walker Bay – my first time to see these magnificent creatures and what better way to enjoy the show than to retire to the comfort of the sofa and the crackling fire. Probably time for some red wine I should think…
Needless to say the rest of the afternoon passed by in a pleasantly relaxed fug. Afternoon became evening and before I knew it is was time for our Five of the Best Massage. Don’t ask me what the five different massage techniques were – but they involved 90mins of the most blissfully relaxing pampering I can remember and a rather terrifying array of primitive looking implements including hot stones, bamboo and some sort of wooden club.
Birkenhead House is named after the Royal Navy vessel HMS Birkenhead, the largest iron ship of the navy in 1852, carrying one hundred and thirty crew members and four hundred and eighty seven soldiers on their way to the Frontier war. Her glory was short lived. On the 25th of February 1852, just before 2am, the Birkenhead struck a rock off Danger Point, bringing her and her four hundred and fifty passenger’s lives to a shuddering halt on that fateful day. Not the most cheerful story, but you’ll be pleased to know that I had an apparition free night in my splendidly comfortable bed.
If you can indeed prize yourself away from Birkenhead for a few hours, there’s a whole world of treats in the nearby Hemel n’Aarde Valley – one of South Africa’s best kept secrets. The valley boasts four amazing vineyards, award winning wines and breath taking scenery. We found ourselves at Mogg’s Country Kitchen – a super rustic, super friendly and super delicious, family run affair – but that’s a story for the Horny Grazer. For now, just get yourself to Birkenhead – it’s one hell of a place!
La Residence is a Tuscan-influenced Cape Dutch Farmhouse with more than a hint of Louis XV (that could be why this is one of Elton John’s favourites)! The product of a union between an interior designer and an art historian, this small hotel is a wickedly garish montage of exposed roof beams, Tuscan arches and loggias, dazzling period pieces and Victorian art deco. The baronial lounge and dining area, with its open-plan kitchen, showcases walk-in fireplaces, a four-metre hand-cut glass chandelier and is decorated with antiques. If the opulent glam-rock house doesn’t bowl you over, the setting might: on the edge of a private dam in the Franschhoek valley, surrounded by lines of vineyards and sheer mountains that rise into the blue sky like monumental dinosaur skeletons.
Accommodation here is nothing short of regal. The 11 suites are so big you could fly a glider in them, the four-posters are lost in the centre and the bathrooms dwarf mid-sized hotel rooms. The double-volume living area is a rich contrast to the simple beauty framed by each picture window. Each suite has its own private balcony which provides panoramic views and allows the fresh mountain air to seep into your soul. Guests can relax during the day in the palm-fringed courtyard and catch a tan beside the infinity pool. Wander through the vineyards and fruit orchards on scenic walks, and explore the fragrant gardens and private dam.
Despite its veneer of bourgeois collectors’ items, life at La Residence, while retaining all the elements of a luxury hotel, is simple and relaxing. Sofas, a crackling fire and steaming mugs of hot chocolate lure you into the kitchen to chat with the chefs at work preparing your food; summer salads and seafood are served on the shaded terrace and winter tagines and soups in the firelit banquet room. Unlike the other Royal Portfolio properties which are Full Board, the La Residence rates are half board – this is because of the sheer number of fantastic restaurants on your doorstep in Franschhoek – some of South Africa’s finest, including Reuben’s and Le Quartier Francais. Between meals the vineyards and estates offer invigorating scenic walks and private wine tastings. What about wine tasting on horse back, cheese tasting or even a spot of trout fishing?
Royal Male-Wow! The ultimate in colonial chic. We arrived to the warmest of receptions – beaming smiles aplenty, refreshing cocktails and a room full of decadent treats! Royal Malewane is super exclusive and has some of the best game viewing Africa has to offer. Each of the freestanding and private suites is in total harmony with the magnificent surroundings. Each has its own dark wooden terrace, thatched gazebo and spillway pool.
The palatial suites have their own sitting room with a cosy fireplace, antique and contemporary furniture and a dazzlingly comfortable, canopied king-size bed. The bathroom was an extravagant affair with a window-side Victorian bath and indoor and outdoor showers, everything has been thought of for the perfect dip in the bath with a whole lot of indulgent Molton Brown products. After a long day of exhilarating game viewing, you can journey into dream’s domain draped in Ralph Lauren linen, as the lion roars echo through your window of stars. The main camp complex is the heart of Royal Malewane. African thatched-roof buildings house the library, shop, dining and reception areas. Furnished with rich antiques and Persian carpets, every fitting creates the feel of original colonial elegance and is a lesson in stylish interior decorating! There’s also a state of the art gym and one of the most breathtaking spa facilities around. But why be confined to the spa? How about a treatment in the sala, with only nature surrounding you? Expert rangers and master trackers escort guests on game drives twice a day. Royal Malewane game rangers and trackers are among the best qualified and experienced in South Africa. And the best bit? All your meals, drinks, snacks and game drives are included in the price! This place really is one of our favourites!
If you would like to find out more about these exclusive properties, then why not drop us an enquiry? One of our expert consultants will gladly assist you. And remember, if you book with us, it will cost you less than if you book direct!